A few more myths. . .
12. Transit is not important because its market
share is so small.
"Public transit is clearly a declining industry. Ridership peaked
during the World War II period at 23 billion or so trips per year. . . As
World War II came to an end and life returned to a more normal peacetime
mode, public transit lost most of its market advantages. Ridership
declined by about two-thirds, from 23 billion annual trips to between
eight and nine billion in recent years. Public transit's share of urban passenger-miles fell from
50 percent in 1945 to barely 2 percent by 1995." -- by John
Semmens, Public Transit: A Worthwhile Investment?, Goldwater
Institute,December 1999, p. 1
As noted elsewhere in this paper, transit ridership has in fact been
rising in recent
years. In 2000, transit carried 9.4 billion trips.
But the problem here is not the answer but the question. Asking what
of total trips transit carries is misleading. As we pointed out in our
Does Transit Work? A Conservative Reappraisal,68 only about half of
households have transit available, and only about one-quarter have transit
available that they consider "satisfactory." People cannot ride
what isn't there.
Moreover, transit has never carried a large share of certain types of
trips, such as
shopping trips -- which today are the single largest category of
A better measure of transit's effectiveness is transit competitive trips.
That is to
say, what percentage does transit carry of trips for which it can compete?
to be competitive, three criteria must be met. First, transit must be
available. Second, the available transit must be high quality -- which
usually means rail transit. And third, the trip purpose must be one for
which transit can compete, which usually means trips to or from work or to
or from entertainment.
Statistics are not currently collected in such a way that we can measure
success precisely in terms of the percentage of transit competitive trips
But as Does Transit Work? A Conservative Reappraisal demonstrates, the
clearly far higher than the 1% or 2% usually given by the transit critics.
Chicago's Metra commuter rail system in 1990 carried 21% of commuting
trips to the Central Business District.
For those who want a more detailed answer to this myth, we recommend our
earlier study, Does Transit Work? A Conservative Reappraisal.
close to the end of the full report is this little gem. I think it makes
one of the the bigger cases against Transit.
It is the 2% Market Share that MUST be
used to evaluate transit and here is why:
Despite the huge increase in the amount of transit over this period,
market share is 2% because transit cannot cater to the chosen mode
of development throughout the country -SPRAWL. There will never be "A
better measure of transit's effectiveness:- transit competitive
trips" simply because transit can never compete in the many
suburbs and no one will go/carry their shopping on the bus or train.
Even if, lets say, 1/2th of all miles
driven is non-commuting and of the remaining, 1/4 would otherwise be
driving to/from the Transit Station then we could still allocate no
more than 5% market share to transit compared to the remaining (now)
competitive commute-miles driven.
Here is another argument:-
A decrease in the travel share of transit in most U.S.
cities is a logical consequence of the country's housing, taxation,
investment, and other policies affecting urban areas, as well as the
subsidies to highways and car travel, which are greater than subsidies to
all other modes combined. The policy implications of this trend should be
based on the goals set for urban transportation. Because the goal is to
develop intermodal systems and decrease reliance on highway travel only,
the decreasing share of transit travel is the reason to increase rather
than decrease travel investments
Absolutely - and which investment
produces the most passenger -miles per $ ? - Freeway
Myth Number Four: Transit does not
Congestion has actually increased in cities that
have built Light Rail, and building more highways will relieve congestion
better than building rail systems. A rail line has less capacity than a
single lane of freeway or even a major arterial.
As always, let's start by hearing this criticism in the critics' own
"Transit's effect on highway congestion is insignificant in most
American cities. --
Randal O'Toole, Urban Transit Myths: Misperceptions About Transit and
American Mobility, Reason Public Policy Institute, September, 1998, p. 13
"Rail is not a decongestant. New facilities cannot decongest existing
facilities. The impact of transit on highway level of service is
small." -- Thomas A. Rubin and James E. Moore II, Ten Transit
Myths: Misperceptions About Rail Transit in Los Angeles and the Nation,
Reason Foundation, November, 1996, Executive Summary
"But more important than the source of light rail ridership is that
it carries such modest volumes in relation to traffic on adjacent
roadways. In no case has light rail attracted enough drivers out of their
cars to materially reduce traffic congestion..
On average new U.S. light rail lines carry less than 20 percent of the
volume of a single freeway lane couplet (2 lanes of freeway, one operating
in each direction). .
." -- Wendell Cox, Why Light Rail Doesn't Work, Texas Public
Policy Foundation, January, 2000, p. 6
"Most riders on new rail systems have not come from private autos. At
best, 35-40 percent of new-rail users came from private autos. . . As a
result, there have been no discernable impacts on auto traffic." --
Peter Gordon, A Transit Plan for Hillsborough County: A Reality Check,
Reason Public Policy Institute, June, 1998,p.5
"Because of light rail's shortcomings, it cannot lure enough people
out of their cars to decrease traffic congestion and corresponding air
pollution." -- Daniel R. Simmons, Randy T. Simmons and Samuel R.
Staley, Growth Issues in Utah: The Facts, Fallacies, and Recommendations
for Quality Growth, Sutherland Institute, October, 1999, p. 33
Common sense quickly tells us that, contrary to the laments of the
troubadours, transit can and often does relieve congestion. St. Louis's MetroLink Light Rail line provides a
good example. MetroLink's single 18-mile carried 14.2 million passengers
in 1999. According to a 1997 riders' survey, 69% were commuting to work.
Most were doing so in rush hours, when highway congestion is at its worst.
only 27% of MetroLink's riders either did not drive or had no car
available. Allowing a
few percentage points for people commuting to work but not in rush hours,
we can say that about 60% of MetroLink's customers were taken off the
highways, minus about 25% who had no car available or did not drive. Since
most Americans drive to work alone, MetroLink is removing about 12,500
cars from St. Louis's rush hour traffic every day. Is that a significant
number? We asked the City of St. Louis Chief
of Police, Colonel Ronald Henderson, what effect MetroLink has on St. Louis traffic. He said: The MetroLink light
rail system has proven its extreme importance to us not only during rush
hour traffic, but it has significantly helped us during special events
such as Rams' football, Cardinals' baseball, and Blues' hockey games. The
number of riders on the system positively impacts our traffic patterns on
a daily basis.
So how do our wandering minstrels get away with denying something that is
obvious? As usual, they tune their supple songs in some rather artful
The fact of the matter is that some kinds of transit have a strong effect
highway congestion, but other kinds do not. In general, buses running on
city streets have little effect on congestion, because they do not provide
a better level of service than the autos that impede their flow. Hence,
most of the people on them are transit
That means they have no car, or at least no car available for the trip
they want to
make, or they do not drive. Take away the bus and they stay home. They
cannot get on the road and add to the traffic.
Rail transit, and sometimes buses running express services from the
straight downtown, are quite different. They appeal strongly to riders
from choice, people who can and would drive if the train or the bus were
not there. As we just saw, up to 60% of the people on St. Louis's Light Rail system would be on the road
in their cars if the trains stopped running.
So how can the transit critics claim that transit has little effect on
Because in most cities, there is little or no rail transit. Often there
aren't even express buses. If quality transit isn't there, people can't
ride it. They have to drive instead.
Two ironies hit us right in the face here like cold, dead flounders.
First, since it is
rail transit that best reduces highway congestion, the transit critics by
their own logic should favor rail rather than damning it. Unless, of
course, they really aren't interested in reducing highway congestion. That
leads to our second irony. The highway lobby, the same people who provide
a number of the anti-transit troubadours with their funding, are the
people who destroyed the rail transit systems most cities used to have!
Imagine how much less traffic Los Angeles would have today if that city
still had its Red Cars and the more than 1,000 miles of track they rode
on. Who framed Roger Rabbit? The same people who now tell your city,
"Don't build Light Rail!"
Of course, the transit critics have their own solution to traffic
more highways. But in one of the paradoxes of transportation planning, it
turns out that doesn't work. As a recent article in Scientific American
Like Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party, highway planners are caught in
a vicious cycle, says Martin Wachs of the University of California
Transportation Center. "You can never build enough roads to keep up
with congestion. Traffic always rises to exceed capacity."
The problem here is what planners call "suppressed demand." What
demand" means is that new or expanded roadways draw more cars, to the
where they quickly become congested themselves. Study after study has
documented this effect:
"Our study. found that adding lane-miles does induce substantial new
A 1.0 percent increase in lane miles induces a 0.9 percent increase in VMT
Miles Traveled] within five years. With so much induced traffic, adding
capacity does little to reduce congestion. . . " Mark Hansen,
"Do New Highways Generate
Traffic?", Access, No. 7, Fall, 1995, pp. 20, 22
"Transportation planners are well aware of cases where highway
projected to accommodate fifteen years of traffic growth are choked with
congestion in far less time." David Lewis and Fred Laurence Williams,
Policy and Planning as
Public Choice: Mass Transit in the United States, Burlington, VT, Ashgate,
"In fact, an expansion of 1 percent to an existing capacity of 1,000
miles. . . would reduce (congestion) by one-eleventh of a percent on
onesixth of a percent on principal arterials, one-fourth of a percent on
and one-third of a percent on collectors." Xuehao Chu, "Highway
Areawide Congestion," paper presented at the Transportation Research
Annual Meeting, January, 2000, Washington, DC, p. 10
Similarly, one study after another shows that high quality transit,
transit, can reduce congestion.
After the September, 1998 opening of the Westside line of MAX, Portland,
Oregon's Light Rail System, "Transit's share of westbound trips
leaving downtown on major
roads during the afternoon rush hour increased by 5 percentage points. . .
percent in May 1993 to 16 percent in May 1999. This increase represents
all of the 5.5 percent increase in afternoon rush hour trips (emphasis
Sunset Highway, transit's share of westbound trips leaving downtown
during the afternoon rush hour increased from 13 to 20 percent while drive
declined from 60 to 55 percent." Westside Corridor Travel Study
Summary -- May 1999, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of
The Texas Transportation Institute's 1999 Annual Urban Mobility Study
that the greatest increases in congestion have been in areas that do not
"Table 3, Travel Rate Index" ranks 68 urban areas by percent
increase in "Peak
Period Travel Time Penalty," in the short term from 1992 to 1997 and
in the long
term from 1982 to 1997. Only 2 of the 10 areas with the greatest
Time Penalty" short term increase had rail transit service at that
time, the other 8 did
For long-term congestion increases rail cities fared even better. Only 1
of the 13
areas experiencing the greatest increase had rail transit service, the
other 12 did
David Schrank and Tim Lomax, 1999 Annual Urban Mobility Study, Texas
Transportation Institute, 1999, Table 3
"The results of this study suggest a relationship in which 1 mile of
substitutes for 5.4 to 7.5 miles of travel in automobiles. Newman and
have suggested a relationship of 3.5 kilometers of automobile travel for 1
kilometer of transit travel and Holtzclaw found relationships in which 1
mile of transit travel
replaced from 4 to 8 miles of automobile travel." John W. Neff,
Substitution Rates Between Automobile Users and Transit Passengers,"
and Proceedings of the Applied Geography Conferences, Vol. 19, 1996, pp.
Of course, cities that continue to grow while still mandating the
housing, employment and shopping may generate so many new trips that total
increases despite the addition of rail transit. But rail transit still
reduces the rate at
which congestion increases, because most trips on rail represent a car
If the rail line were not built, highway congestion would be even worse.
And what about the myth that a rail transit line has less capacity than a
of freeway or even a major arterial road? The facts are clear enough:
The basic problem with urban/suburban freeways is that they take up so
much space for the capacity they deliver. At 1500 cars per lane per hour,
a six lane freeway's maximum capacity is about 11,000 people per
hour. . . within a 300 foot right of way. Urban rail systems can deliver
much or more capacity in 100 foot or less of [right of way]. The Dallas
light rail line when completed to Garland and Richardson will be able to
deliver at least 20% more hourly capacity than a six lane freeway (13760
people per hour) at 14% less capital cost per mile. Heavy rail systems
the Washington Metrorail have five times the capacity of a six lane
freeway in about one third the space and cost about the same per mile as
the Century Freeway in Los Angeles.
So how do the anti-transit troubadours say that Light Rail carries fewer
than even a modest two-lane road? Why, they just compare what Light Rail
lines do actually
carry with what a highway could carry, if it were jammed to its maximum
hours a day! Many of their tunes, it seems, sing of apples and oranges,
artfully but not
The wrong question. It should be:-
Does the money invested in Transit
relieve congestion as much as the same money invested in
Rail Travel Does Not reduce Traffic CongestionThere
have been cases in which the streets of major roads in a city center or
around a suburban station have experienced renewed traffic congestion a
few years after a metro system opened in the city. This, however, cannot
by any means be considered an argument that metro construction is
ineffective, or that investment in its construction is justified. First, transportation
service in congested areas where there is a metro is considerably better
than in congested areas with no alternative means of travel: Wow! Ya dont say? all metro passengers
travel free of congestion, and those who travel on congested streets have
the option of switching to the uncongested mode. Moreover, the metro
usually has reserve capacity, so that an increase in economic and social
activities is not as constrained as it is in congested, car-dependent
There are many examples of such benefits from rail transit. Today, Washington, D.C., offers fast and reliable travel
via Metro at all times whereas in 1975, without the Metro, travel during
peak hours was unreliable, taxi service was difficult to get, and there
was no congestion-free alternative. Similarly, in the San Francisco Bay
Area, one can travel during many peak hours faster from San Francisco to Oakland
or Berkeley by BART than by any highway mode.
Prior to BART's opening, all travel options were subject to traffic
conditions on the Bay Bridge and its access roads.
It is important here to note that street congestion recurs after a
metro system has been built only when the activities in the areas served
by rail transit have intensified so much that the number of generated
trips has increased by as many as the rapid transit now carries. The claim
that building a new metro system does not eliminate street or freeway
congestion, therefore, may be true in some cases, but at the same time, it
indicates that rapid transit has a major positive impact on the
activities and vitality of a city.
There also have been clams that rail transit failed to produce either of
the preceding two impacts. Webber (The BART Experience: What have we
Learned? 1977) claimed that San Francisco's
BART neither had a significant impact on the development of downtown San
Francisco nor reduced highway congestion. These two claims are mutually
contradictory. If a rapid transit system carries, for example, 100,000
people per day into a downtown, these people must either have been
diverted from highway vehicles, thus reducing congestion, or the
activities in the area must have intensified, thus indicating a strong,
positive impact of rapid transit on economic activities and land uses. Source
Making BART incompatible with both its
feeder buses and other rail lines has cost the Bay Area billions!.
Relative rail financial success stories are rare, mostly because of its
inflexablilty. When we all become tele-commuters - rail may become empty
but we still pay the same operating cost for it. Freeways may become empty
(we wish) but we won't pay anything like as much per trip or person-mile
have to dig up the St. Louis Chief of Police, where's the Data?
|The Induced Traffic excuse
are many examples, of course, where freeway expansion works.
Myth Number Three: Commuting by rail is slower
than commuting by car or bus.
In the anti-transit troubadours' own words:
"Once out-of-vehicle, station access and transfer delay time is
accounted for, rail travel times tend to be longer than the time required
to complete the same trip by bus." --Thomas A. Rubin and James E.
Moore II, Ten Transit Myths:
Misperceptions About Rail Transit in Los Angeles and the Nation, Reason
Foundation, November, 1996, Executive Summary
"Even in the few corridors served by new light rail systems, it
provides no speed advantage compared to highway alternatives. . . New
light rail systems average 17.2 miles per hour, and the fastest at-grade
system operates at 18.2 miles per hour.
This is faster than the bus average of 12.8 [miles] per hour. By
comparison, the average automobile commuting speed is more than 30 miles
per hour (nearly double the new light rail operating speed)." --
Wendell Cox, Why Light Rail Doesn't Work, Texas Public Policy Foundation,
January, 2000, p. 14
"Using public transit is a time-intensive mode of travel. An
American's average commute to work driving alone in his car is about 21
minutes. The average commute to work by public transit bus is about 38
minutes. The average commute to work by light rail or subway transit is
about 45 minutes. Time has value. The subsidies poured into public transit
have been unable to bring transit travel times into a range competitive
with driving one's own car." -- John Semmens, Public Transit:
A Worthwhile Investment?, Goldwater Institute, December, 1999, p. 7
Common sense tells us something is fishy here. If rail transit is slower
why do so many people drive their cars to rail transit parking lots and
take the train
As usual, the facts are rather different from what the transit critics say
Let's look first at the question of train speed vs. bus speed.
Here, the critics cannot even agree among themselves: Rubin and Moore,
with Semmens, say train is slower than bus, while Cox says light rail is
faster than bus.
Table 1, calculated from the 1998 National Transit Database, compares bus
rail speeds in thirteen different American cities; in only one, Denver, is
the bus faster
What about car speed vs. rail speed? Are all those people using rail
lots just wasting their time?
Both speed and commuting time comparisons used by transit critics tend to
misleading, because they compare apples and oranges. Cars are faster if
are on freeways away from city centers at rush hours, where traffic
Once the cars are in or near city centers during rush hours, highway speed
drastically. That is the logic behind park-and-ride: the train bypasses
highways in or around the Central Business District.
Table 1: Average Speed in Revenue Service FY 1998
Average Speed in Revenue Service
Bus Light Rail Heavy
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit
Baltimore Mass Transit Administration of Maryland
Buffalo Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
Dallas Area Rapid
Denver Regional Transportation
Los Angeles County Met Transportation Authority
Portland Tri-County Met Trans Dist of
Sacramento Regional Transit
St. Louis Bi-State Development
San Diego Trolley and San Diego Transit
San Jose Santa Clara Valley Trans
Washington (DC) Met Area Transit
In comparing car vs. rail commuting times, the critics introduce
Many of the commuting journeys represented in their "average
commuting time by
car" figures are short, suburb-to-suburb trips, not trips from the
suburb into the city.
The latter usually take more time because they run into the congested
traffic in the city center, and because the journey itself is usually
So it turns out that the people using those park-and-ride lots by the rail
aren't so dumb. Some surveys of rail transit users make the point
A Virginia Railway Express (VRE) study surveyed commuting time before and
after riders started using VRE's commuter trains. On the Manassas Line,
trips were less than one hour before the train was used and 44.4% after.
Fredricksburg Line, 18.2% of trips were less than one hour before VRE and
Looking at Heavy Rail systems, in a 1982 MARTA (Atlanta) study, riders
asked to pick three from a list of eight factors for riding the train as
most important. For all riders, "Total door-to-door travel time"
received 63.2%, the second highest rating after "total cost."
In a 1995 Denver RTD study, 13% of new weekday riders chose "Time
using light rail" as their primary reason for using the train, third
among seven options.
On a nationwide basis, the 1995 Nationwide Personal Transportation
Survey found that, in answer to "I use public transit because,"
43% agreed or strongly agreed that "It is faster than using a private
This data confirms what those of us with the good fortune to live in
cities with rail
transit already know: in or near the city center, in rush hours, taking
the train gives a
faster ride and takes less total time than does driving a car through the
congested (and sometimes gridlocked) urban streets and freeways.
But that's not all. There is icing on this cake. On the train, your time
is not wasted.
You can read, think, perhaps even write on your laptop. Behind the wheel,
you can hope to do in the way of useful work is talk on your cell phone,
usually to tell someone you are caught in traffic and will be late. And if
you walk to and from the train station, on either or both ends of your
journey, you get to add some exercise to an otherwise sedentary day
without taking time to go to a gym or health club.
The train is fast. But it is also civilized, far more so than a traffic
jam. There is a
reason so many people who have cars and could drive are taking trains to
And it's not because they can't read a watch.
Anywhere rail is faster than car
it is because too much funds have been mis-directed away from freeway
expansion , towards over-expensive rail. BRT could answer this now
(if it wasn't already answered).
"Common sense" tells us that getting to the station 10 minutes
early and the frequent delays, - invariably come close
to doubling commute time, relative to driving on average roadways.
Reprogram money now
budgeted for Central Link light rail to expanding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
speed of the train is irrelevent.
say it is faster For the other half it is slower -
then net result:- a wash. If only half can commute
faster it explains why Market Share is only 2%.
few more myths. . .
13. Transit systems are poor stewards of public
"Over the past 30 years, considerable sums have been used to
subsidize transit -- total public subsidies have exceeded $360 billion,
more than the cost of the interstate highway system. As public funding has
become available, transit agencies have spent considerable sums lobbying
Congress, state legislatures and local governments for higher levels of
tax support. Nationally, transit has focused primarily on revenue
enhancement. Transit has been considerably less aggressive in its efforts
to minimize unit operating costs." -- Wendell Cox, The 1999 Texas
Transit Opportunity Analysis: Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris
("Metro") Ill-advised, Texas Public Policy Foundation, 1999,
Part 2, p. 1
The problem here is generalization. Some transit authorities are poor
public money, while others give the public excellent return on investment.
Chicago's superb Metra commuter rail system
in 1999 covered 49% of its expenses from fares, while devoting another 5%
of passenger revenues to capital expenses. In FY 1989, 1990 and 1991, the
South Line of the San Diego Trolley actually
made a profit.
We must again note the irony here: Mr. Cox, like most of the anti-transit
troubadours, consistently favors buses over rail. But in most cases the
operating cost of rail transit is less than that for buses, and the
farebox recovery rate is higher. When we add in the far greater
attractiveness of rail transit to riders from choice, it is clear that
rail transit makes the best use of public money.
Only 1 City makes money and the 2nd best makes
half its costs. Wonder how bad all the others are ? Where's the list of
They have no argument against the $360 bil ?
Get a handle on the
Another argument:Auto users are subsidized in numerous ways - from "free
parking" privileges to tax exemptions for various car uses. Moreover,
car drivers are not charged for many costs and negative impacts they
impose on other travelers and society as a whole in short or the long run.
Estimates of these costs are on the order of hundreds of billions of
dollars annually, far exceeding subsidies given to all other modes of
This is garbage and the ONLY argument of
Autos being subsidized.
Myth Number One: Light
Rail has been a failure everywhere. The estimated costs always prove too
low, and the ridership projections are always too high.
Do the anti-transit troubadours really sing this song? Let's hear it in
"Experience has shown, however, that rail ridership tends to be
overestimated at the planning stage, especially by rail advocates, while
capital and operating costs tend to be significantly underestimated."
-- Clifford Winston and Chad Shirley, Alternate Route: Toward Efficient
Urban Transportation, Brookings Institution, 1998, p. 11
"Ridership forecasts for proposed rail plans are notorious for being
Indeed, the actions of rail backers in some cities have been criticized in
scathing terms as being deliberately deceptive on this point." --
Robert J. Franciosi, Light Rail in the Valley: What Awaits Voters at the
End of the Line, Goldwater Institute, February, 2000, p. 2
"The forecasts that led local officials in eight U.S. cities to
advocate rail transit projects over competing, less capital-intensive
options grossly overestimated rail transit ridership and underestimated
rail construction costs and operating expenses."
-- Don H. Pickrell, "A Desire Named Streetcar: Fantasy and Fact in
Rail Transit Planning," APA Journal, Spring, 1992, p. 158
When the Light Rail revival began in America in the 1980s, some early
and construction cost estimates were badly off. This is not surprising,
was no experience on which to base them. Light Rail (streetcar and
construction had ceased in this country before World War II.
A report written by transit critic Don H. Pickrell, Urban Rail Transit
Forecast Versus Actual Ridership and Cost, Final Report, published in
October 1990 by the U.S. Department of Transportation, made much of these
early errors -- despite the fact that some of the systems criticized had
improved their estimates before the report was written. A case in point is
Portland, Oregon. Portland, in 1978, had
forecast Light Rail ridership of 42,500, to be attained in the seventh
year of service. That forecast was amended in 1985 to 19,270 after the
first year of service; the actual count after one year of service, in
1987, was 19,990. So while the first estimate was way high (actual
ridership in the seventh year of service was 23,400), it was corrected.
Similarly, the original cost estimate, in 1978, was $161 million for a
combination of the Light Rail line and a package of highway improvements.
The actual cost in 1986 was $321 million, but the estimate had been
altered in 1981 to $328.5 million. The Pickrell report ignored the later
estimates for both ridership and cost.
The Pickrell report is still cited by transit critics as the basis for
their claims that
"Light Rail has failed everywhere." But in addition to that
report's weaknesses, time has added some new facts. With experience,
estimates for Light Rail ridership and costs have grown much more
accurate. In fact, if we look at new Light Rail lines, we find ridership
has generally been underestimated, and costs and sometimes construction
time overestimated. Examples include:
Salt Lake City's TRAX Light Rail system is
one of the country's newest; service began December 4, 1999. It opened a
year ahead of schedule and construction cost was under budget. Projected
weekday ridership was 14,000 people. Actual weekday ridership for the
first four months of the year 2000 was 19,039, 18,956, 19,742 and 19,210
respectively. Saturday ridership was even higher, reaching 25,621 in
April. A few other facts about TRAX may be useful. A February survey of
riders found that 45% were new to public transit; many of these represent
cars removed from traffic.
According to Mel Pearson, chairman of the Downtown Retail Merchants
Association, "Since TRAX light rail began operation, both of the
major malls in downtown Salt Lake City have
experienced double-digit traffic count increases, especially during nights
and weekends. Downtown Salt Lake has a totally different feel to it. You
can tell by just looking at the increased number of people walking down
the sidewalks." A public that previously was skeptical about Light
Rail now wants more lines, soon.
In July, 2000, Denver extended its original
5.3-mile Light Rail line another 8.7 miles. According to the Rocky
Mountain News, "Ridership on the new southwest light-rail line
exceeded expectation by almost 30 percent in its first week. A total
of 11,264 boardings were made Thursday on the new line. . . That was well
above the expected 8,400. Altogether, the 14-mile light-rail system. . .
posted 28,472 boardings on that day, well above the 22,000 projected. [RTD
spokesman Scott Reed said he wasn't surprised by the numbers. 'When we
opened the central
corridor in 1994, we were above projections,' he said. 'We just wanted to
conservative in our estimates.' "
Speaking of the success of the new line, RTD General Manager Cal Marsella
in Passenger Transport, "These ridership numbers confirm that people
embraced light rail for their daily transportation needs. Coupled with the
fact that it
costs RTD substantially less to carry a passenger aboard light rail than
aboard a bus in revenue service, light rail is a huge success now and will
be an even bigger hit in the future. . . The demand for light rail parking
is virtually insatiable. The same day we open additional spaces, they fill
up completely. This is further evidence that people will choose to take
light rail as opposed to having to drive."3
Portland, Oregon's Westside MAX Light Rail
line opened in September, 1998. In a report on its two-year anniversary,
The Oregonian noted that "Those two years have seen 16 million
riders, with daily averages now above 71,000, a level not expected until
2005. 'When we opened Westside MAX, our critics thought the forecasts for
2005 were overly optimistic,' said Fred Hansen, Tri-Met general manager. .
Concerning MetroLink, St. Louis's Light Rail
line, Professor William D. Warren of the University of Illinois at
Bi-State (the agency that runs MetroLink) projected 13,000 MetroLink
riders for initial service, increasing to 17,000 at the end of the first
By July 1994, the twelfth month of service, weekday ridership was
44,414. Average Saturday and Sunday ridership for July 1994 was
50,725 and 50,623. Projected ridership values were clearly exceeded.
The projected patronage values may have been too conservative. Before
the system was completed, however, many public officials and media
commentators suggested that the projection of 17,000 patrons for
weekdays after one year was ludicrously high.
The first 11 miles of Dallas's 20-mile DART
Light Rail system opened on June 14, 1996, on time and within budget.
Initial ridership was projected at 15,000; actual ridership in July, 1996,
averaged more than 18,000. Current DART weekday ridership, with all 20
miles in service, is 42,000.
These examples show Light Rail done right. However, problems can still
One would, at first blush, appear to be a recently opened Light Rail
Hudson-Bergen line in northern New Jersey.
Opened on April 15, 2000, Hudson-Bergen exceeded its estimated
construction cost by 5% to 10%, although New Jersey Transit attributes the
additional costs to design changes. Estimated initial ridership was 8,700;
actual ridership in mid-December, 2000, was 7,600.
However, the main reason for the disappointing ridership seems to lie in
that the initial line wasn't really a line at all. It was only the center
portion of the actual first line, going from Jersey
City to nowhere. When the two ends are opened, Hudson-Bergen will
connect real destinations. Ridership may then come to equal the original
The trend, however, is the other way: most new Light Rail systems are
built on or
under budget and carry more riders than projected. Why do the anti-transit
troubadours keep repeating charges from a flawed 1989 report and ignoring
more recent evidence?
Perhaps because, as entertainers, they are more interested in Dichtung
than in Wahrheit. . .
Transit costs 60c per
Person-Mile v Auto's 18c, triple.
LA's expensive disaster
St. Louis light
The $400 million St. Louis light rail line, considered by many to be the
most successful new line in the nation, has had virtually no impact on
adjacent freeway traffic volumes. The reason is not just that light rail
is inherently ineffective, it is rather that the primary destination it
serves is no longer so dominant. The 50,000 per
weekend-day V the 17,000 per weekday ridership, opposite, seems to confirm
That 17,000 is over-inflated (see below)
Moreover, despite ridership increases in the "Does
Transit Work?" case studies of Chicago (commuter rail only)
and San Diego, work trip market share dropped
between 1980 and 1990.
In LA, Denver and St.
Louis express bus riders transferred to
automobile use for travel to downtown because of longer trip times
as a result of a forced transfer to light rail and funding
withdawl from busing.
St. Louis Analysis to
Factor Out Double Counting http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-stlpm.htm
from Implementation of Light Rail - In Passenger Miles:
Between 1990 and 1995, St. Louis opened a
light rail line that accounts for an inordinately large percentage of
boardings (approximately 25 percent). During the same period other public
transport systems opened new rail lines or expanded rail services, but in
no metropolitan area was the rail ridership high enough in relation to
existing services to significantly move passenger "boarding"
Ridership in St. Louis had declined by 35+
percent from 1980 to 1990. The Bi-State Development Agency undertook an
aggressive program to coordinate bus and rail services, truncating many
routes at light rail stations. As a result, many trips that formerly
required a single boarding now require two boardings, as transfers are
forced from buses to light rail. This effect is to exaggerate the apparent
increase in total transit boardings and per capita boardings. In fact
Boardings per capita increased 12.8% not 25% but a more meaningful figure
is "Passenger-Miles per Capita" .
A review of passenger mile data indicates the extent of the exaggeration.
From 1990 to 1995, passenger miles increased 3.3
percent, considerably less than the 15.4 percent increase in boardings.
From 1990 to 1995, passenger miles per capita
increased 1.1 percent, instead of 13.4 percent.
The other major transit authorities include Clevelandís
GCRTA, with an annual reported ridership of 64 million vs. 29 million
Cincinnatiís SORTA with 27 million vs. 12 million;
Daytonís MVRTA with 15 million vs. 6.6 million;
Akronís METRO with 8.2 million vs. 3.7 million;
Toledoís TARTA with 4.6 million vs. 2 million; and
Cantonís SARTA with a reported ridership of 1.7 million but only
775,000 actual riders per year. in millions.
figures, a proposalís Actual number of riders
should be calculated as 45 percent of the Reported estimated
Center for Quality Growth
And now, early 2000 census data indicates that at least one urban area Ė
Portland, the international paragon of light rail Ė has seen its transit work trip market share rise from a dismal 6.3
percent to a nearly as dismal 7.4 percent over the last decade.
Other light rail cities have done less well, with market
share losses of up to the 35 percent of St.
Read about Salt Lake
Read about Dallas
Myth Number Twelve: It
would be cheaper to lease or buy a new car for every rider than to build a
new light rail system.
This argument is a real eye-catcher, so the anti-transit troubadours use
it at every
opportunity -- sometimes for commuter rail as well as light rail, and
sometimes even for
intercity rail. Let's hear it in their own words:
"Moreover, light rail systems have proven to be excessively
costly. The cost per attracted automobile driver
averages more than $18,500 annually -- or nearly $750,000 over a 40 year
career. This is considerably more than would be required to lease each
attracted automobile driver a luxury automobile in perpetuity (retail
prices of $30,000 to $65,000). It is 80 percent more than the average
household expenditure on housing." Wendell Cox, The 1999 Texas
Transit Opportunity Analysis: Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris
County ("Metro") Ill-advised,
Texas Public Policy Foundation, 1999, Part 4, pp. 24-25
"Rail transit is expensive. In fact, it would be cheaper to purchase
new cars for rail passengers in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati than to
build expensive rail systems. . . New cars cost about 10.9 cents per mile
to operate annually.
Operating costs for mass transit, in contrast, are nearly six times as
expensive in Cleveland (63.7 cents) and Columbus (66.5 cents) and four
times as expensive in Cincinnati (39.9 cents)." -- If You Build
It, Will They Ride?, Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions,
October, 1999, pp. 1-2
"Finally, light rail is very expensive. With respect to virtually all
new systems, it would have been less expensive to lease each new commuter a car in perpetuity in some cases, a
luxury car, such as a Jaguar XJ8 or a BMW 740i." -- Wendell Cox,
"Coping with Traffic Congestion," in A Guide to Smart Growth:
Shattering Myths, Providing
Solutions, The Heritage Foundation, 2000, p. 46
This one is a real howler. To put it into perspective, a new BMW 740I goes
for $62,900. APTA estimates that approximately 13,000,000 people use
transit on a typical weekday. 13,000,000 times $62,900 would be $817.7
billion -- almost half of the annual federal budget.
To look at just Light Rail, let's turn again to one of our favorite
examples, St. Louis.
St.Louis's 18-mile MetroLink Light Rail line cost $450 million to
construct. It carries
about 42,500 riders on an average weekday. On-board rider surveys indicate
that about 80% of riders are new to transit -- they are "new commuters," in Mr. Cox's example. To buy
each of them a new BMW 740I would cost $1.1 billion -- about two and
one-half times as much as it cost to build MetroLink.
And that is only the beginning of what is wrong with this transit myth.
equipment -- cars, tracks and wires -- is often in service for decades. In
five years, all those BMWs are going to need replacing. You could easily
spend that $1.1 billion four or five times before you need to spend $450
million to re-equip
MetroLink (which in fact would cost less than the initial construction.)
So now all
those BMWs cost 10 to 13 times the capital cost of Light Rail.
Plus, the cost of MetroLink includes the cost of the road, or in its case
Very few BMWs come with their own road attached. So to the cost of the car
must be added the cost of the roads to carry them, the parking spaces to
hold them, the police to ticket them when they are driven as BMWs are
meant to be driven and the fire and rescue crews to pry them open when
they run into each other.
And there's the rub: one of Light Rail's benefits is that by getting
people out of
cars and onto transit, it reduces congestion. Obviously, if we all buy all
the train riders new cars and shut down the railway, congestion will
increase. So will accidents, time lost in traffic, frayed tempers and all
the other joys that come with clogged rush hour roadways. And these too
We could go on. According to AAA, the total ownership and operating cost
new car is 47.0 cents per mile, not the 10.9 cents given in the Buckeye
Since the people riding transit each day are not all the same, there would
have to be a steady flow of new BMWs, not just a one-time buy. Do the
people who cannot drive also get a chauffeur with their BMW? And so forth.
This myth is perhaps the most obviously and blatantly false of the bunch.
lies its importance. It reveals the technique of the anti-transit
troubadours more clearly:
tell a big fib fast, then get out of town before the truth can catch up to
it. Maybe that's why they seem so fond of BMWs. . .
|"attracted automobile driver", "new
commuter". These terms are carefully chosen but ignored
by the rebuttal opposite. I so wish both sides would just stick to the
data and drop the hyperbole. Because of such I must ignore both arguments
Myth Number Five:
Where transit is needed, buses are better than rail.
Buses cost less and provide the same or better service.
Again, let's hear it from the horse's, er, mouth:
"Another problem with light rail is that, unlike bus service, it
is inflexible. Busroutes can be changed overnight, if needed, to respond
to changes in demand and development. A change in a light rail route takes
months and hundreds of millions of dollars to remove the tracks and re-lay
them on a new route." -- Daniel Simmons, Randy T. Simmons and Samuel
R. Staley, Growth Issues in Utah: The Facts, Fallacies, and
Recommendations for Quality Growth, Sutherland Institute, October, 1999,
"Studies in Los Angeles have shown that
overall travel times on rail transit are longer than the same trips on the
old bus routes, by factors of up to 100 percent. . . Bus trips also had
significantly lower fares, required fewer transfers, and had shorter
headways. Buses operated for longer periods of the day and on weekends and
holidays, and offered more convenient access. . . Given the choice, most
of these riders would prefer to continue to take the bus." --
James V. DeLong, Myths of Light Rail Transit, Reason Public Policy
Institute, September, 1998, p. 5-6
"Bus corridors consist of parallel bus lines collectively providing
higher capacity than rail lines. . . Light rail lines cannot deliver more
than a small fraction of the carrying capacity provided by dedicated bus
rights-of-way." -- Thomas A. Rubin and James E. Moore II, Ten
Transit Myths: Misperceptions About Rail Transit in Los
Angeles and the Nation, Reason Foundation, November, 1996,
Imagine a fruit wholesalers convention where a speaker, three sheets to
on hard cider, holds up an apple and an orange and exclaims,
"Everybody should buy oranges, not apples. Why, this orange produces
twenty times as much juice as
this apple!" To which a sober farmer replies, "It makes no sense
completely different fruits. Comparing apples and oranges is as dumb as
comparing buses and rail transit."
Buses and rail transit are at least as different as apples and oranges.
With a few
exceptions, they serve different purposes and different people -- so
it may be more of a hindrance than a help to lump them together as
In general, buses serve the purpose of providing mobility to people who
car or cannot drive -- the transit dependent. Rail transit serves the
purpose of reducing traffic by drawing to transit riders from choice,
people who have cars and can drive if they choose to do so.
There are, of course, some exceptions. The New York
City Subway serves everyone. Ridership on Los Angeles's Light Rail Blue
Line is 89% minority, which generally means transit dependent. Houston and
Ottawa have had some success in drawing riders from choice onto express
buses, and in St. Louis, when Light Rail
opened, bus ridership also rose as former auto commuters took local buses
to the train stations.
But these remain exceptions. More typical is Seattle.
When buses were temporarily substituted for the 1930s-built streetcars on
that city's Waterfront line, ridership dropped to one-fifteenth of what it
had been on the trolleys.15 PATCO, a 14-mile rail transit line serving
Philadelphia's middle class New Jersey suburbs, carries 40,000 daily
riders; in the same area, seventeen bus lines with 28 branches, totaling
563 route miles, draw only 30,000.16 One study showed that when Light Rail
replaced buses on the same route or in the same transit corridor,
ridership usually increased by over 100%.
Another study demonstrated that when buses replaced rail transit,
ridership declined by between 34% and 43%.
The differences between bus riders and rail transit riders were
demonstrated in a comparative survey of both done in St. Louis in 1993,
after Light Rail opened in that city.
Among bus riders, 70% said they used the bus because they did not
drive or had no car available. For train riders, the figure was 17%.
11% of train riders took the train because it was faster than driving,
and 13% because it was more relaxing; for bus riders, the figures were
3% and 2%.
84% of train riders rated service as excellent or good, compared to
57% of bus riders.
40% of bus riders owned no car, and 28% had two or more cars. Only
8% of train riders had no car, and 68% had two or more cars.
48% of bus riders live in the inner city, compared to 14% of train riders.
57% of bus riders have annual household incomes of less than
$20,000, compared to 21% of train riders. Only 6% of bus riders have
incomes of over $45,000, compared to 38% of train riders.
For the 40% of bus passengers who have no car, the bus is their only way
around. That is true of only 8% of train riders. But the 68% of train
have two or more cars would presumably drive if there were no train, so
for them, the social purpose of rail transit is to reduce traffic. In
fact, 68% may be too low; the same survey found that before the Light Rail
line opened, 79% of rail riders did not use transit at all.
So we see that the differences between bus and rail are if anything
those distinguishing apples and oranges; comparing bus and rail as if they
interchangeable is more like comparing, say, aardvarks and kumquats. So
the anti-transit troubadours always tell us to stick with buses and not
build rail? Well, if the objective is to keep people in their cars, that
is a pretty good prescription. Let's look at a few of the transit critics'
more specific objections to rail:
They contend that buses are more "flexible" because bus routes
can be moved
virtually overnight while train tracks are fixed in place. This is true.
But it turns out
to be one of the advantages of rail, not a disadvantage. One of the more
important purposes of any infrastructure is to spur and channel
development. Bus transit has no effect on development, precisely because
of its here today and gone tomorrow "flexibility." No developer
can count on its being there once his building is
completed. Rail transit, on the other hand, is a major spur to
development, because once it is there, it is there for the long term. A
developer may buy land, erect a building and get tenants, knowing that
those tenants will still have rail transit service next week, next month,
next year and next decade.
The critics also claim that buses cost less than rail. This is true of
but not of operating costs. In St. Louis,
Light Rail had an operating cost per passenger mile in FY 1995 of 224
compared to 684 for buses, a cost per passenger trip of $1.18 compared to
$2.31 for buses, and a farebox recovery ratio (FY 1997) of 41.8% compared
to 20.3% for buses. In Portland, Oregon, the
operating cost per boarding passenger is $1.67 for buses, $1.40 for Light
Rail.20 In Dallas, the operating cost per
passenger mile of the DART Light Rail system is just 60% of that of buses.
On a nationwide basis, the latest figures, from the Federal Transit
Administration 1999 National Transit Database, show the operating
cost of Light Rail as 454 per passenger mile, compared to 554 for buses.
Another assertion by the critics is that buses on dedicated rights-of-way
busways or HOV lanes -- are better than Light Rail. In actual experience, buses
on busways do not compete effectively with rail transit, at least in the
minds of potential riders.
Former Deputy Secretary of Transportation for Pennsylvania E.L. Tennyson
compared the two modes over the years. He writes:
In 1970, the Shirley Busway was opened on I-95 in Northern Virginia to
serve the Pentagon and Washington, D.C. Transit use jumped
exponentially when frequent service replaced three slower trips per day. .
but ridership has declined by seventy percent since the Second Energy
Crisis. Then rail service was established at a higher fare on a slightly
slower schedule. Ridership jumped 450 percent in a year, at a lower
operating cost per passenger-mile. In 1986, when Metrorail replaced
express buses on I-66 HOV lanes, transit use increased almost 900
percent over several years. . .
I was Deputy Secretary of Transportation for Pennsylvania and signed
over the funding for the South Busway (in Pittsburgh), with a promise of
35,000 weekday passengers. At the height of the Second Energy Crisis,
we got 20,000, but it has fallen since then to lower than pre-busway.
Ottawa (Canada) has had a similar experience.
In sharp contrast, San Diego eliminated Express Bus Route 100 and
converted trunk Route 32 to Light Rail. Over time, ridership has risen
from 12,000 with buses to 28,000 or more by rail, at an operating cost of
only 17 cents per passenger-mile (1998). Bus cost in San Diego was 38
In one city after another, Light Rail has shown that it can draw a great
riders from choice who would never board a bus. The same is true for
commuter rail, as we showed in our look at Chicago's Metra system in our
first study.23 The anti-transit troubadours dislike rail transit not
because it doesn't work, but because it does.
They have to dig up some FORMER Deputy Secretary of Transport Pennsylvania
to make their case for Operating Costs?
|Can rail compete with
At least in someone's mind.
A Few More Myths
1. Transit subsidies exceed automobile subsidies.
2. Increasing transit funding does not increase ridership.
3. Transit is not cost effective.
4. Most people do not want rail transit.
5. Monorail is better than Light Rail.
6. Light Rail is not safe.
7. Transit infrastructure is only constructed to get federal money.
8. Rail transit does not help revitalize downtowns.
9. Transit is an 'inferior' good; as incomes rise, demand declines.
10. Transit inefficiencies and failures are the result of politics.
11. Rail transit is a federal conspiracy.
12. Transit is not important because its
market share is so small.
13. Transit systems are poor stewards of
14. Rail transit does not increase property values.
15. Before federal involvement, transit paid for itself.
16. Light Rail is promoted by overly low fares.
17. Cutting spending on transit would allow tax cuts.
18. Transit subsidies should be directed to users, not providers.
19. Light Rail is social engineering.
20. Transit costs more than it should.
21. Trains are noisy.
22. The overhead wires for Light Rail are ugly.
Critiquing the Transit Critics
Twelve Anti-Transit Myths: A Conservative Critique
A Study Prepared by the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation
A wand'ring minstrel I,
A thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!
My catalogue is long,
Thro' ev'ry passion ranging
And to your humours changing
I tune my supple song!
I tune my supple song!
--Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado
Today, any town or city that proposes to build a Light Rail line becomes a
for a new variety of wand'ring minstrel--the anti-transit troubadours.
and always singing the same songs, they tend to appear just before
referenda on new
rail transit proposals. They find a stage, join hands with local transit
put on quite a show. With songs such as "Light Rail Has Been a
Failure Everywhere" and
"Transit Does Not Relieve Congestion," they have frequently
confused the general
public, sown doubt about meritorious transit projects and delayed if not
efforts to provide high quality transit.
Besides their peripatetic nature, the anti-transit troubadours share two
qualities with minstrels of old. First, while the names change
songs are really the same everywhere. The transit critics offer identical
every new rail transit line, regardless of where it is to be built, whom
it is to serve or what it
is to cost. They sound less like a live act than a broken record.
The transit critics' second similarity to the old wand'ring minstrels is
that their lyrics
are highly inventive. What they present as facts--"No Light Rail Line
Achieved Its Projected Ridership"-- are simply not true. They are
myths, clever myths,
sometimes entertaining myths, but myths nonetheless. Basing public policy
on myths can have
regrettable results, as more than one expedition in search of the Golden
the Fountain of Youth discovered.
In this study, the third in Free Congress Foundation's series on
public transportation, we do something conservatives really enjoy. We
summon the anti-
transit minstrels and their myths before the Lord High Executioner. We put
on trial twelve
antitransit myths and face each with the facts. The accused are:
Beyond all the specific facts we have recounted here to confute the
one broad fact stands out. It is the best answer to all the anti-transit
myths. It may
also be the best reason why more cities should build rail transit. What is
Wherever people get to see and ride rail transit, they want more of it.
There's a scientific reason for ya !!!
A pattern is beginning to emerge. Someone -- a mayor, a transit authority,
doesn't matter who -- announces a plan to add rail transit to a city that
has none. The plan
faces a referendum. The anti-transit troubadours descend on the city, and
referendum fails. Maybe it fails several times. But eventually, one line
gets built --
usually Light Rail, sometimes commuter rail or even a heritage streetcar
People see it, ride it, love it and want more.
It happened in Dallas. Ken Hoffman of the Houston Chronicle, writing about
Dallas's DART Light Rail system, told the usual story:
Light rail didn't always get a "way to go" in Dallas. In 1988,
a resounding thumbs-down, and a few other fingers, on light rail. But
Dallas Area Rapid Transit built a 20-mile rail "starter kit"
money, anyway. The trains began rolling through downtown in June 1996.
Light rail was an overnight sensation, standing room only (literally),
keeps getting more popular.
In Dallas's most recent transit referendum, a proposal to speed up Light
construction passed with 77% of the vote.
This pattern, seen also in Denver and Salt Lake City, points to both the
strength of the anti-transit troubadours and to their eventual extinction:
the only people who
listen to them are people who have not experienced rail transit.
Most American cities lost rail transit 50 years ago or more. Few people in
cities now remember what it was like. When someone proposes that they
Rail," nobody understands what it is. So it is easy for the transit
critics to come in,
spread their myths around and confuse the voters. In referenda, confused
voters vote "no."
But once a "starter line" is up and running, the whole picture
changes. People can
see Light Rail, and ride it. Once they do, they find it is something they
like. Even if they
have a car, they think, "hey, this would be a great way to get to
work or to the ball
game." Now, when they go into the voting booth, they are not
understand the question they are voting on. Unless the specific proposal
designed, they usually vote "yes."
And they have no further interest in the myths spread by the transit
have seen the thing itself, and that is always the best answer to
Thus, our conclusion: if you want rail transit in your city, start small.
Don't ask the
voters to approve some massive, multi-billion dollar system when they
understand what they are voting on. Build a starter line. Keep it simple.
Build it where people want to go. If you design it right, you can probably
get it up
and running without federal dollars, which makes the whole process much
faster. Then let it sell itself.
Soon enough, you won't have to be asking the public to approve more rail
They will be asking you.
At that point, if the troubadours come around singing their laments, they
the public taste has changed. The new hit song will be, "Clang,
Clang, Clang Goes the
Trolley," and the troubadours will find their time has come, and
Until that happy day, we hope our answers to the anti-transit myths and
makers will help you hold the field.
Extract from A Study Prepared
by the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation
by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind
The Free Congress Foundation
717 Second Street
Washington, DC 20002
Twelve Anti-Transit Myths: A Conservative Critique
The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Anti-Transit Myths
Myth Number One: Light
Rail has been a failure everywhere. The
estimated costs always prove too
low and the ridership projections are always too high.
Myth Number Two: Transit is a declining industry.
Despite massive increases in transit funding since 1980, transit
ridership has declined. Rail transit has a very high subsidy per
passenger, and transit use has declined as much in cities that have built Light
Rail as in those that haven't.
Myth Number Three: Commuting
by rail is slower than commuting by car or bus.
Myth Number Four: Transit does not
relieve congestion. Congestion
has actually increased in cities that have built Light Rail, and building more
highways will relieve congestion better than building rail systems. A rail line
has less capacity than a single lane of freeway or even a major arterial.
Myth Number Five: Where transit is
needed, buses are better than rail. Buses cost less and provide the same or
Myth Number Six: Rail transit can only serve city
centers, but most new jobs are in the suburbs.
Myth Number Seven: Rail Transit does not spur economic
Myth Number Eight: Transit brings crime into a
Myth Number Nine: Most Light Rail riders are former bus
Myth Number Ten: Free market competition and privately operated transit is
betterTransit is a blight on the economy, while
highways are a net public benefit.
Myth Number Eleven: On average, most of the seats on a
bus or train are empty.
Myth Number Twelve: It would be cheaper to lease or buy
a new car for every rider than to build a new light rail system.
These twelve are the favorite lieder of the anti-transit troubadours, and
them from California to the New York island -- again, with remarkably
Beyond the "big twelve," they offer a wide variety of minor
chansons, to which this
High Court of Facts will also give some attention. Delightfully, our
occasionally make the mistake of offering some solutions or predictions of
own, instead of sticking to the safer act of criticizing other people's.
Where we have
found these, we will most assuredly make the punishment fit the crime.
A warning to liberals and others with faint hearts: as conservatives, we
Lord High Executioner's fondness for capital punishment, preferably
ingenious and highly entertaining ways. After all, what better enlivens an
otherwise dull afternoon than the public beheading of a myth that had the
temerity to disguise itself as a fact?
Let us then call our court into session and the first anti-transit myth
before the bar.
A Few More Myths. . .
While the twelve myths we have addressed are the "dirty dozen"
most beloved by the
transit critics, they are not the only anti-transit myths floating around.
occasionally hear that "monorail is better than Light Rail," or
"Light Rail is
promoted by overly low fares," or "trains are noisy." In
this section, we take shorter looks at some of these myths, showing why
they, too, are fictions.
Critiquing the Transit Critics
The anti-transit troubadours have a great deal of fun criticizing
proposals for new
transit services. It's easy enough to do, so long as you don't let the
facts get in your way.
But what about their proposals? Mostly, the critics are careful not to
make any. But
where they have, we can have some fun too -- usually just by pointing out
what they have actually said.
The anti-transit troubadours have set themselves up for the music critics
First, they have tried to disguise themselves as prophets, gazing deep
crystal balls to predict the success or failure of new rail transit lines
(can you guess which
one they always predict?) Second, in a few cases, they have laid out their
solutions to a city's transit needs, offering some real high comedy in
place of their usual low farce.
Let's first see them in their prophets' robes.
In March of 1994 the Independence Institute published a paper opposing
Rail for Denver, Colorado. The title was
"Stop that Train: RTD's Light Rail Boondoggle is on a Fast Track
for Disaster." In fact, Denver's expanding Light Rail system has
great success, carrying more people than projected -- almost 30,000 per
just fourteen miles of line. The farebox recovery ratio in 1999 was 43.2%,
to 24.1% for the Denver bus system. The most
recent referendum in Denver on expanding Light Rail passed with 66% of the
Similarly, the Sutherland Institute put out a paper in 1999 opposing Light
Salt Lake City. Author Peter Samuel said:
Salt Lake City is plunging ahead with a
second light rail project, even before the first is up and running. The
promise of $480 million dollars (sic) in federal funds for the east-west
line apparently proved too tempting for state legislators to resist. It
may provide a superficial benefit for the
Olympic city, but this short-term gain will be at the expense of future
taxpayers who will be lumped with the huge year-by-year costs of
subsidizing the losses incurred by urban rail. In every city where
passenger rail has been built in the past decades, rail systems fail to
recover via the farebox more than half of their operating costs, let alone
any return on the capital investment. And when, as usual, ridership falls
far short of expectations, the rail enthusiasts will say it is because the
system isn't comprehensive enough. . . Will Salt
Lake City have $480 million available to repay the feds when no one
is riding the rail line?
Light-rail proponents tell us not to worry.
Not to worry, Peter; almost 20,000 people are riding Light Rail in Salt Lake City every weekday, with Saturday
ridership sometimes hitting 25,000 (projected weekday ridership was
14,000). The feds won't be wanting their money back anytime soon. Salt Lake's most recent referendum on starting
commuter rail, on November 7, 2000, passed with 53%, 54%, and 58% of the
vote in each of three counties.
If the anti-transit troubadours aren't very good prophets, they do seem to
another talent. They would make great creative writers for horror flicks.
"Nightmare on Elm Street," their specialty is "Nightmare on
Your Street." And no one does it better than our old friend Wendell
Not long ago, Wendell descended on Atlanta. This time, instead of just
Mr. Cox laid out his own proposal for solving Atlanta's traffic congestion
problem. The town's main paper, The Atlanta Constitution,
reported on the "Cox Plan" in some detail, noting that:
"In ways that he never intended, Wendell Cox has done metro Atlanta an enormous service. . . It is the first
time anyone has tried to spell out just what it would take to accommodate
1.5 million more residents, all driving as much as or more than today's
residents. Cox calls it a "New Vision," but it's more like a
The essence of the "Cox Plan" for Atlanta is
quite simple: pave the city. Again, we quote from the Atlanta Constitution:
Cox believes it would be realistic to create a grid of arterial roads
six to eight lanes wide, no more than one mile apart, throughout metro Atlanta.
He also says there should be another grid of freeways crisscrossing the
region. . . He calls for building freeways underground in double-decked
tunnels and double-decking other above-ground freeways. He advocates
adding another deck exclusively for trucks. . . In essence, Cox is
suggesting that between now and 2025, we should raze Atlanta
as we know it and replace it with Los Angeles ---
While Mr. Cox and the other anti-transit troubadours talk endlessly about
the costs of rail transit, they have little to say about the costs of
their alternative highway expansion plans. The Atlanta
paper notes the omission:
Cox doesn't try to guess how much his vision would cost, but he
acknowledges that it is likely to be more than the $36 billion in the
plan prepared by the Atlanta Regional
Commission, a figure that already represents every known source of
transportation revenue and then
some. . . Even if we had the money, would we really want to pay the
aesthetic, environmental, social and other costs? Will quality of life be
improved when we are all within earshot of a roaring freeway? Will we
love a metro Atlanta carved into so many rat
mazes, living in
neighborhoods cowering beneath behemoth, multidecked freeways?
Cox's assumption that free-flowing traffic is the only characteristic of a
worth caring about is pathological.
Poor Wendell; he really should have stuck to criticizing other people's
thoughtful transportation plans instead of venturing his own. Perhaps he
had been reading Peter Samuel's paper from the Reason Public Policy
Institute, How to "Build Our Way Out of Congestion", which
advocates building 24-lane double-deck freeways in southern California's
Sadly, this is one of the few instances where the transit critics have put
their own solution. But combined with their failed prophecies, it allows
us to say in big bold letters what most of our readers will by now have
understood for themselves, viz.,
THESE PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT!
They haven't a clue! They don't understand that bus and Light Rail serve
people and different purposes. They can't comprehend the disastrous
many cars have on cities. They can't even see what everyone else sees,
including their own grandmothers, namely, that driving a car in rush hour
in the city is a pain in the you-know-what! All of which leads us to the
modest conclusion of this study.
But the Cox's solution, though appearing
"overboard" to some, would actually REMOVE congestion from the